It’s easy to make restaurant-quality Penne alla Vodka right at home, with a creamy homemade vodka sauce, topped with parmesan cheese and fresh basil. 

I love easy pasta recipes that sound so much fancier than they are, like this Cajun Chicken Pasta, Penne Arrabbiata, or Shrimp Scampi with Linguine.

A pot full of homemdae penne alla vodka, with a spoon for serving.

How to Make Penne alla Vodka

1.  Make the Vodka Sauce:  Add olive oil and butter to a large pot over medium low heat. Once hot, add onion and cook for several minutes until translucent. Add garlic and crushed red pepper cook for 30 seconds. Add vodka and cook until reduced by half.

2. Add tomatoes.  Use (clean) hands to crush the whole tomatoes right into the pot, and add the rest of the juice from the can. Add dried oregano and basil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

3. Puree.  Use an immersion bender, food processor or blender to puree the sauce until smooth.

Three process photos for making vodka sauce in a pot.

4. Add cream, simmer.  Reduce pot to low heat. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook 10 more minutes. Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta according to package instructions.

5. Add cooked pasta and parmesan cheese.

Heavy cream being stirred in vodka sauce, then cooked penne pasta and parmesan cheese added to the pot.

Serve garnished with fresh chopped basil and extra parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes, if desired. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to one week.

Is there Vodka in the sauce?

Yes. Adding vodka releases and boosts flavors in the tomatoes adding a new complexity and balance to the sauce that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to achieve. (The vodka also helps emulsify the fats and liquid in the sauce). For those reasons, it’s a popular technique in Italian cooking, but the key is to simmer the sauce for a long period of time allowing most of the alcohol to evaporate.

Adaptations:

Substitute the pasta: use any kind of of bite-size pasta for this recipe, or even whole wheat pasta.

Add Meat: chicken, prosciutto, bacon, shrimp, pancetta would all make delicious additions. Add meat (except for shrimp) in step 1, when sautéing the garlic. Shrimp should be added at the very end, since it cooks so quickly.

Vegan or dairy-free: substitute additional oil for the butter, omit the parmesan cheese, and substitute a vegan milk (almond, soy, etc.) and note that the sauce will be thinner.

A serving of penne alla vodka served on a white plate, garnished with basil.

Make Ahead And Freezing Instructions:

To Make Ahead: Make the vodka sauce, but don’t add the pasta. Store the sauce and cooked pasta separately in the fridge. Add the sauce to a saucepan to rewarm and then stir in the pasta.

To Freeze: Make the sauce through step 4, before adding the cream or pasta. Allow the sauce to cool and then freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight, or over low heat in a saucepan. Once warm in saucepan, add cream, cooked pasta, and cheese.

You could freeze the fully assembled dish as well, just know that upon reheating the sauce may have a slightly different texture due to the cream, and it wont be quite as saucy because of the noodles soaking up some of the sauce.

Serve Penne Alla Vodka with:

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Recipe

A pot full of penne alla vodka, with a spoon for serving.
Prep 10 mins
Cook 45 mins
Total 55 mins
Add to Meal Plan

Video

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil (high quality olive oil is best)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 yellow onion , diced
  • 3 cloves garlic , minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes , undrained
  • 1 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp dried basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper , to taste
  • 12 oz penne pasta
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese , plus extra for serving
  • Fresh basil , for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Add olive oil and butter to a large pot over medium low heat. Once hot, add onion and cook for several minutes until translucent. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for 30 seconds. Add vodka and cook until reduced by half.
  • Use (clean) hands to crush the whole tomatoes right into the pot, and add the rest of the juice from the can. Add dried oregano and basil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook penne pasta according to package instructions, until al dente. Drain, rinse and set aside.
  • Use a bender or food processor to puree the sauce until smooth.
  • Reduce pot to low heat. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook 10 more minutes.
  • Stir in cooked pasta and parmesan cheese.
  • Serve garnished with fresh chopped basil and extra parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.
  • Store leftovers in the fridge for up to one week.

Notes

Make Ahead Instructions: Make the sauce, but don’t add the pasta. Store the sauce and cooked pasta separately in the fridge. Add the sauce to a saucepan to rewarm and then stir in the pasta.
Freezing instructions: Make the sauce through step 4 before adding the cream or pasta. Allow the sauce to cool and then freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight, or over low heat in a saucepan. Once warm in saucepan, add cream, cooked pasta, and cheese.
You could freeze the fully assembled dish as well, just know that upon reheating the sauce may have a slightly different texture due to the cream, and it wont be quite as sauce because of the noodles soaking up some of the sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 571kcalCarbohydrates: 68gProtein: 15gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 48mgSodium: 148mgPotassium: 272mgFiber: 3gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 546IUVitamin C: 3mgCalcium: 152mgIron: 2mg

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About The Author

Lauren Allen

Welcome! I’m Lauren, a mom of four and lover of good food. Here you’ll find easy recipes and weeknight meal ideas made with real ingredients, with step-by-step photos and videos.

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